There comes a time when every intellectual needs to set aside The Economist, turn off the latest Sam Harris podcast, and settle down for a night of good, solid television.
But before you get sucked into the mind-numbing black hole that is reality TV (or find yourself stuck endlessly scrolling through streaming options), check out these binge-worthy shows that will sate your curious mind:
This one is a no brainer. Or, actually, a full-brainer.
Black Mirror isn’t one show, per se, but rather a bunch of stand-alone episodes with the general theme of, “How can we f*ck with your brain?” It’s chock-full of mind bending and fun-to-ponder scenarios, as well as wild storylines and heightened consequences for its various protagonists. You’ll laugh, you’ll cover your eyes, and you’ll probably cringe about our tech-heavy future. But most importantly, you’ll use your noggin and be entertained at the same time.
Are you a secret philosophy nerd? Well, apparently so are the writers of NBC’s The Good Place.
It’s hard to make a sitcom smart, but this one’ll take you on a journey through some of existential philosophy’s biggest questions – and along the way, you’ll enjoy great performances and sharp-as-a-tack joke writing. And just when you think the show is starting to get mildly predictable, it turns everything on its head… in really forking fun ways. (That’s a joke you’ll get once you start to watch it.)
Looking for a show that transports you to another time and place, makes you laugh, and leaves you pondering some big moral questions? Then this is the show for you.
The first half of the first season is good, but the second half – and the entirety of the second season – gets, well, great. We love the morally complex characters (you'll start off loving one and hating another, then find yourself changing your mind). We also love some of the questions the show tackles: What is it acceptable to do (and who is it acceptable to sacrifice) in the name of a good cause? How do you get an entire society to change its ways? And can you fall in love with someone who is lacking in moral character?
The Twilight Zone is the OG show for deep thinkers. Like Black Mirror, it was structured as an anthology, featuring a bunch of stand-alone episodes. An addicting mix of fantasy, horror, sci-fi and more, its episodes often lead to surprising conclusions (and heady takeaways). If you plow through all the original episodes, you’ll be glad to know that there have been various reincarnations of it, including a recent one from mastermind Jordan Peele.
Before he began acting Strange in Marvel movies, Benedict Cumberbatch cut his chops as the inimitable Sherlock Holmes in this series from the BBC. And whether you’ve read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books on the famous fictional detective or not, you’re sure to be entertained and intrigued by the intricate and well executed mysteries of Sherlock.
It’s a delightful period piece that showcases the many investigative talents of Sherlock Holmes, all while weaving intricate plot points together in ways that’ll make your brain churn as it's equally entertained. So, head on over to 221B Baker Street – with your thinking cap on.
It's worth watching the first season of this show, which poses the intriguing question: What would our world look like if the Nazis (and the Axis powers) had actually won WWII? The show takes a bizarre turn for fantasy at the end of the first season, but the central premise is absolutely fascinating.
HBO’s Westworld is part robots, part western-gunslingers, and all fun. Set in the future, Westworld is a park where the super-rich can pay to spend time in “the old west,” replete with a staff of human-looking robots who cater to their wildest fantasies. As you might expect, things aren’t as they seem, and the park’s secrets begin to unravel. It’s a fun ride that’ll have you thinking about the nature of futurism, free will, and A.I.
From the get-go, Maniac makes it clear you’re in for a wild viewing experience. Part sci-fi, part psychological thriller, part LSD-fever-dream, Maniac tells the story of a group of people who volunteer for a drug trial. The drug is supposed to rid them of all human pain and suffering. Beyond that… well, you’ll just have to see where this genre-bending, funny, and creative series takes you. Jonah Hill and Emma Stone give award worthy performances, and the show takes you on a ride that’ll mess with your mind (in all the right ways).
Have a show you think deserves to be added to the list? Add it to the comments!